All posts by mike

So it begins again…

After a year off due to depression, I re-emerged and finally completed the first year in 2015 with surprisingly good marks. I’ve dusted off this blog and am now due to embark on Year 2.

Aaaand I’m already behind…

The first assignment (due in 19 days!) is a portfolio about my online interaction in a private Facebook-like environment. Of which I done nothing. Mostly because of time, but also because the other interactions are citing sources and ideas I’ve never heard of, or I can’t relate to my context, so I have no intelligent reply. This is going to be hard.

I’m struggling to relate this module to my education context (LLDD) so that this time and effort is worth my while and also that of the College funding my studies.

I need a plan.

  • Figure out exactly WHY we’re participating in an online forum – is it to discuss participating in online forums? (I suspect it is…), or as a medium for something else. In either case, how on earth am I going to relate this to my learners. Perhaps I need to angle it towards practitioners using digital engagements as peer-support/development instead.
  • Read (using the citations listed by others as a starting point)
  • Read some more
  • Participate online anyway – (perhaps rather than replying to content, I can start conversations to secure the context I’m after?)
  • Revisit the theories I’ve already learned (and subsequently forgotten) in previous assignments to reduce cognitive load – efficiency is key here!

I’m not concerned by the submission medium here (website or blog post probably ) because as usual in the digital word “content is king” – the medium is irrelevant. Interestingly this contradicts the “medium is the message” idea. Perhaps the idea doesn’t transcend into the discrete detail of the different online mediums:

  • Blogs
  • News sites
  • Personal websites
  • Forums
  • Video / Vlogs
  • Social networks

Although, anything community based (many-to-many) can be voted up or down to promote ‘quality’ content (Stack Exchange, Reddit, Facebook ‘likes’ to some degree) unlike a blog or website (one-to-many) which can be left unaltered – although community interaction elsewhere will determine how prevalent search engines rank the content.

Either way, content is king.

 

Link to original Bill Gates’ essay who is attributed with coining the phrase

The value of blogging

Task 4 requires I setup a relevant blogroll; at present mine just contains links to my other blogs, the course blog and Liz’s – so that needs some work! I’m unsure at present of good relevant blogs, but will include them as and when I find them.

Also, I’m wondering as the purpose of a blogroll – it’s an old model (indeed, the latest version of wordpress doesn’t include the facility to have one, I had to install an additional plugin to display links) and it’s purpose seems to be a collection of signposts for other reader, not the author.  I now have all my bookmarks stored on xmarks and so don’t refer to the blog for them, but perhaps I’ve missed the point here…

Right then, so on to the value of blogging. I actually have 3 blogs for different purposes:

  1. This one – it’s sole purpose is for me to reflect on the MSc TEL. I can store any sort of content, access it anywhere and search it later.
  2. My work one – I’ve recently set this up as part of a Jisc project to help disseminate the ACCESS: Technology websites further, but also use it as a platform to share ideas and thoughts on assistive technologies.
  3. My family one – this serves as method to journal memories and share pictures / moments with Grandparents etc.

In terms of my professional development, whilst it’s hard to have a grasp on the benefits at this very early stage on the course, it’s incredibly useful to write down and reflect on what I’ve been doing to clear my busy head, help organise my thoughts and be able to look back on previous experiences. Writing regularly has additional benefits in practicing academic skills (although, this style is very informal by comparison); indeed there’s a programme setup just to encourage people to regularly empty their heads and just write.

I find that here I write fairly regularly (twice a week..ish), although I only post about once a month on my other blogs for some reason; perhaps I’m treating this more as a diary and not really fussed who, if anyone, is reading this (hello?). On that note, I also use an excellent journal writing system Oh Life for my personal diary. Once an evening it emails me and asks ‘how did you day go?’ and includes a random post from the past. All I have to do is reply. I’ve been doing that for 3 years now and have written regularly in that time.

Now, I don’t (yet) use all the functions that blogging has to offer, in fact I find tags, categories, authors and archives cumbersome and irritating – it all seems to be aimed at prolific multiple content writers for large corporations rather than little old me sat at my laptop. However I do understand the benefits of organising content (I use tags and categories on Evernote to organise all my lecture notes, coding snippits and tons of other content) and as this blog gets more and more full over the 3 years, I’m sure I will be grateful for theses organisational functions.

Reading other blogs has enormous benefits for learning new skills. We do live in a wonderful age, a quick Google on installing an Apache webserver or how to bake pretzels and someone, somewhere has documented their experiences in a blog for me to learn from. This individual user created (and curated) content is invaluable and, whilst there is a ton of junk out there too, Google and other feedback informed engines cleverly sort out the popular (and therefore assumed high-quality) content from the dross.

I have used blogging with my students, as a technology supported method to keep work diaries – usually writing content over email (email is a very accessible method as it’s ubiquitous – everything supports it). Unfortunately, the excellent email-to-blog service Posterous sold themselves to Twitter last year, leaving only WordPress as a viable option. However, in the most recent versions WordPress has really stepped up their game and produced a very usable tool including post-to-email functions in wordpress.com or with the Jetpack plugin on self-hosted sites such as this. The learners I’ve tried blogging with seem to not really be motivated by blogging as they themselves see little value in it and as such the post frequency tends to dwindle and blogs remain unused.

The documentation for Task 4 also touches on wikis. I have to say, I absolutely love the concept of wikis – everyone creating and moderating content to inform a resource is an excellent idea. In Dan Pink’s book Drive, he talks about how this is also intrinsically motivating when comparing the success of volunteer-run Wikipedia to the failure of the highly funded Encarta.

I recently watched a TEDx talk on wiki collaboration which included this wonderful slide demonstrating the increased trust in the wiki style of working.

I’m looking at starting an assistive technology wiki to support the developments of my accessible website projects by hosting documentation and including examples of best practice. I will make it completely in the hope that it attracts additional collaboraters to currate the content adding much more value to the resource than it being a one-man-band, which i suppose is the essential difference between how a blog and wiki are written, along with the formatting differences, providing that the wiki is opened for public use.

 

 

…and we’re back!

First post for little while. The Raspberry Pi hosting my webserver died and has taken up considerable amounts of time trying to repair it.

However, it’s officially dead, so I’m now hosting everything on a repurposed laptop with a broken screen running Ubuntu Server. Having the Pi taught me so much about Linux and coding, but I’m actually a little glad it’s now gone – everything is SO much faster!

Unfortunately I lost this entire blog and with it being part of an assignment, that was a bit of a concern! Luckily Google’s webcache came to the rescue and had recently saved a copy so I could retrieve the content from there. I now have automated backup procedures in place…

I’ve had my feedback from my first assignment; lots of helpful comments steering me in the direction of better critical writing and supporting my statements with evidence. I’ve had a bash at making it better, but I’ve been so tired this week (many late nights wrestling with the Pi hasn’t helped) that I’m struggling to work effectively. The requirements of the course are a little beyond me at present (as to be expected! I doing it to learn something after all), but it can be a little demotivating when things are hard to achieve.

For now, I’ve not resubmitted as I think that with a little more energy it could be better, so it’s saved as a draft in Google Drive in the meantime.

My firefox/googledocs/zotero/xmarks workflow seems to be fairly effective. Google docs does have its limitations (inability to highlight for one), but for a free method that plays nicely on Mac, it’s suitable for my current needs. I may have to reevaluate as the assignments get progressively harder over the duration of the course, it has a lot of plus points that would be hard to replicate elsewhere (revisions, backups, portability, cross-platform etc.)

Skills

First assignment (mini-project 9) now submitted for formative feedback. I’m a little nervous as I have no idea if I’m headed in the right direction as I found this fairly hard to write; 500 words is nothing! Do I spend half the assignment attempting to critically analyse the given report, or instead write about my own context using the report to support my discussions? I’m unsure at this stage.

But luckily, the next task on my list is a blog post. I can do those.

This one is all about my skills. I’m unsure of the purpose of task; perhaps a reflective evaluation of where I’m at? But anyway, here goes:

I can code. Yup, the geeky command-line stuff, <tags>, $variables and the if…else statements. I really enjoy it. It’s logical,  eloquent and functional. Apart from the hours spent looking for the single semi-colon that has broken the entire project…

I make web resources to support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. This, amongst other things, makes me an Assistive Technologist. I really love this job. Here I get to work 1:1 with people finding innovative ways to use technology to enhance their lives. I also get to make resources that impact hundreds of users (my ACCESS: YouTube website has been a particular success – students love YouTube!). I currently involved with 2 national Jisc funded projects and spend my working day assessing students for their individual IT access needs, developing resources, delivering sessions and working with some brilliant people.

I can teach. I have a PGCE, 5 years experience at specialist college and opportunities to  train and deliver workshops to other practitioners who are also interested in using technologies to support disabilities.

As a student, I enjoy studying and writing, but I feel the level of academic skill required by the MSc is a little beyond me at present. However, I am confident I can rise to the challenge and be successful in this endeavor.

I’m also an excellent sound engineer. In a previous life, before embarking on a career in education, I ran my own recording studio and contracted out as a live sound engineer for various venues. I did this following my BSc Creative Music and Sound Technology which gave me my technical background which also briefly led to a short stint working for an acoustic consultancy where I developed a good underpinning of applied mathematics.

Beyond this, my skills lay in playing the drums and DIY.

Workflow

I’m wanting to be diligent with my studying. I know that babies, house renovation, dogs, work, church and all the other things I fill my life with are going to be jostling for time and headspace, so I promised myself that Monday and Wednesday evenings are study nights (once William is in bed).

So, as it’s Wednesday, I sat down to do some writing – and then it occurred to me, I don’t have any software to write in! Word for Mac is utterly terrible (go figure) and all the other writing programs I have used on the Mac are designed to for code (Text Wrangler, Sublime Text) or are too basic for academic work (IA Writer). I need a new tool…

However, the fact I wasn’t doing any work began to trouble me, then this quote came to mind:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

Excellent; now I felt I could justify spending the evening sorting out my workflow. (I’ll definitely do some work on Monday. I promise!)

So my brief:

  • cross-platfrom (Windows / OSX)
  • simple yet has necessary features (can produce a dynamic table of contents for example)
  • ideally free!
  • interface with a citation manager

Now, going down the ‘free’ route, EndNote (which has been recommended citation manager) wasn’t a option, so I looked for an alternative first. Wikipedia had the most information on Zotero out of the free ones. This looks good, but best works as a addon to FireFox rather than a standalone app.

With that in mind, Google Docs seemed like a sensible option to do the actual writing. It’s online so I can do it from any platform or browser. All my work is automatically backed up with revisions and it plays nicely with Zotero. Working in my browser also opened up the abililty to quickly look at University resources (this is a distance learning course after all) and research materials on the web.

Being browser based (and feeling very web 2.0 about this workflow so far) I wondered about keeping all my bookmarks in sync too (something I always meant to get around to). I logged into my old Delicious account and after 5 minutes of attempting to sync bookmarks and being asked to enter my credentials at least 10 times, I gave up, uninstalled Delicious and looked elsewhere. I found Xmarks – it’s brilliant! It uses the browser’s native bookmarking, syncs automatically and supports tagging.

Final piece in the puzzle was ‘focus’. Working on a home laptop with all the distractions and temptations, I remembered OSX’s full screen feature – it’s turns any software into a bit like an iPad app – no menus, so toolbars, just the browser. Perfect.So, after an evening researching, installing, uninstalling, customizing and synchronizing, I’ve settled on a browser based workflow:

Google Docs + Zotero in Firefox (full-screen) with Xmarks.
It’s neat, effective, portable, automatically backed up and extendable.

Saw sharpened.

Now, let’s get to work.

6 Mini Projects

Interestingly, mini-Magnums also come in sixes. Coincidence…?

I’ve decided on my mini-projects for the first module, although this could change, I’m fairly confident that these are the 6 I’ll undertake. To reach this decision, I rated each project out of 5 for interest and also out of 5 for difficulty based on the synopsis given in the module handbook.

Interestingly, the 4 I rated to be the most interesting (4 or 5 out of 5),  I also rated to be the most difficult. Mostly due to the new skills I’d have to use like using researching journal articles or looking at learning theories; both of which I’ve not really encountered before (yes I know, how did I get my PGCE..?!)

I was left then with choosing 2 ‘three’s. For these I chose what I perceived to be most achievable, as I might find it harder to be motivated on these topics.

So, with that process in mind, the 6 I shall endeavour to embark on are:

  1. Strategic Context (interest 4, difficulty 4) – looking at policy
  2. Conferencing (interest 5, difficulty 4) – summarising a journal article
  3. Design of elearning (interest 4, difficulty 5) – analyse a previous project using relevant theory
  4. E-portfolios and assessment of reflection (interest 3, difficulty 3) – evaluate e-portfolios in education
  5. Assessment of learning in a digital age (interest3, difficulty 2) – how can tech support assessment
  6. Social software (interest 4, difficulty 4) – reflect and analyse activities on http://exploreandlearn.wordpress.com

Well hello there…

One of the tasks for the first module on the TEL is to setup a WordPress blog (tick!)

So, task one requires me to  introduce myself and state the purpose of this blog, so here goes…

Hello, I’m Mike. Here’s a picture of my family (task 2 – tick!):

IMG_8996

I’ve just started a MSc Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Huddersfield. I’m excited about course; partly because of the content and topics covered, but mostly I think I’m excited about studying again and challenging myself to work at the level required by the course.

I work at Henshaws College in Harrogate; a specialist provision, and my role is to support the students to use technology to develop their independence. As such, most of my work falls under the title of Assistive Technology; a relatively new term in the education sector, although it has been widely used for clinical purposes for some time now.

I’m very lucky to be involved with a few projects; one of which is to visit other specialist colleges as well as further education colleges to share expertise and resources and upskill staff in the realm of assistive technology. Another is my personal baby; the ACCESS: Technology suite of accesible web applications – which I have recently open-sourced.

So then, the purpose of this blog: As well as being used for submission of work and assessment as required by the course, I’ve setup this blog as an easy method to log personal reflection (which you can already see in the older posts here, I started this as soon as I was accepted on the course!). Reason being, I struggle with personal reflection, mostly the actual submitting and recovery of data. As blogging is fairly motivational and simple to do (I’ve setup the blog to accept email submissions and also have Wordpress app  on my iPad so its really easy to input content) this seems like the best method.

You may notice this blog runs incredibly slow. This is because it’s hosted on a tiny Raspberry Pi under my stairs at home which struggles with a ‘heavy’ program like WordPress. “Why is your blog running on a tiny computer under your stairs?” you may well ask. Well, as it turns out, I’m a bit of a geek! However, the £30 spent on the Pi and the hours spent setting it up as webserver have been invaluable to me and my career. I have learnt so much from doing it! I can now operate Linux using the command-line, remotely from any device (in fact, I setup this self-hosted blog whilst at a ‘Technology in HE’ conference in London using my iPad on a 3G connection – which I personally find incredible), I’ve learnt about SSH, setting up Apache, MySql and PHP from scratch and opening up ports which has given me some real depth to my web coding ability. All of which, has helped me develop new resources for the students to use at work.

I also have 2 other blogs; a personal family one and my work one here.

Well, it has been lovely chatting, feel free to say ‘hi’ in the comments, but I feel I really must get on with some work now…

Critical reading attempt 1

There was a lot of talk today on the importance of critical reading. A friend at church told me this week, that at masters level, we step onto the next block of Bloom’s taxonomy looking at critical reading and writing. I naively thought that’s something I can already do and shouldn’t be an issue.

Then I read the (very useful) handout given today about critical reading leading to critical writing. I realised that I don’t yet intuitively understand this process or how to apply it. Reading, not to extract information, but to analyse arguments that convey information is a brand new concept to me. First questions are, well, why? Would doing this then make me miss the information presented? Probably not, but I’m going to struggle not to highlight the interesting information and start commenting on the authors intentions and target audience as well as their methods at arriving at conclusions etc.

With this in mind, I read through a text about ten suggestions to improve academic research. We briefly looks through this in class and attempted to made some ‘critical’ comments.

However, on this reread, with this new mindset, I begin to now release that I think this is actually quite a poor piece of work, even if the author makes some interesting and valid points. I even wonder if in fact it was given to us a test (that I failed!) to critically analyse this and point out why this is an example of a poor piece of work.

Firstly, their is very scarce evidence to support his points, only towards the end do we get some useful backing research. The first couple of quotes used could have been lifted out of anything as the context is very generic. “No point in pretending the future is anything other than unknowable”. Agree, but without context, something like this could have be lifted from a Douglas Adams novel and been made to fit the authors statement.

Each of the ten points are laced with generic agreeable statements that would be hard to contend with, but are then used to support the authors argument – that the current research is poor and needs to be improved. No evidence of this poor research is provided throughout the text. In addition, I feel some points are very weak and seem to be included to make up a round number 10.

There is occasional use of good counter argument and citation of research towards the end. Generally I agree with the authors points, but it isn’t clear who is actually disagreeing? It is a current piece of work built upon the authors own experiences , but without the supporting evidence and contrary arguments, it seems to just contain banal platitudes so that the reader is coerced into nodding along as they read, to then encourage them to agree with some of the authors bolder (and again unsupported) points.

Towards the end, his agenda becomes clear; dropping in statements about ‘fairness’ and how technology can better serve social relations; both interesting concepts that I would like to explore, but not written about in any depth other to say we should look at this.

So then, that’s my reflection on my first attempt at critical reading. I feel that I’ve just been marking someone else’s work! It certainly looks like that from the highlights and comments I’ve scrawled all over the paper. Is this what critical reading is meant to be? I don’t know, but it certainly changed the way I looked at this paper.

Unless of course it was presented to us as an example of good practice…. Then I’ve really missed the point!

Induction day

Well, I’m now officially enrolled! Have a NUS card and everything.

A really good day meeting everyone on the course, plus the staff who support our learning. I have been really impressed with the infrastructure and professionalism of them all, but it’s all very human and laid back too. It looks like we’ll get excellent support with academic writing, something I think I’ll enjoy but am a little apprehensive of my ability to do this well, so that’s a great comfort. The introduction to the library was useful and I was particularly struck by the librarians comments that ‘studies show there is a direct correlation between engagement with the library and results’. Having not frequented the library during my undergraduate degree or PGCE, I’ve made a point of at least finding where it is on campus!

So, have details of the first assignments, a series of mini-modules which look to upskill our abilities in academic writing, researching and the like. Seems manageable within the time frame, which is a relief. It looks like I can draw from past experiences and projects for these, but I wonder if I would be better off pursuing something new to challenge me. We’ll see what circumstances allow….

Also, interestingly, there’s a task of setting up a wordpress blog! So, at least that’s something off the (slightly mammoth) todo list I can check off.

Taster session

This week I had the opportunity to take a taster session at Uni of Hudd. Unfortunately, I was half an hour late for a one hour session, but still managed to catch a part of the discussion around flipped learning and the presentation for the MSc.

Whilst the learning topics were not relevant to my current work, this did prove that I am interested in the subject (mainly as a personal e-learner) and it will give me the skills to expand into mainstream FE or HE at a later time.

Very impressed with Uni of Hudd and Liz’s attitude towards the course. She’s very passionate and facilitates well, even with difficult topics presented to her. I feel I will be very well supported during this course, which is essential as its mainly distance learning.

Leeds Uni have returned my application saying there are bits missing. If the online system hadn’t been so appalling, then perhaps they could save a lot of time and money chasing people! As a result, I feel less inclined to pursue the application, even though it’s much closer to home and the course seems to fit my current area of work better, as, from the communication already made, I doubt I will get great support from them and if the application process is anything to go by, the online infrastructure isn’t up to scratch which is a barrier for distance learning.

On my visit to Uni of Hudd, it was great being on a campus again. The phrase ‘clicks and mortar’ is very true for me and I didn’t feel a sense of belonging with the OU (and thus felt less motivated), whereas I will doing a MSc attached to an brick building. I don’t have the psychology skills to explain why, but it’s true!